January 15, 2019

Hallandale official faces backlash for saying Muslim lawmaker may ‘blow up’ Congress

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@blaskey_s @alextdaugherty

A rookie commissioner from a South Florida beach city is facing calls for her resignation after she called newly elected Michigan Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib a “danger” and said the first Palestinian-American woman in Congress may decide to become a “martyr and blow up Capitol Hill.”

From Washington to South Florida, the post has been called “indefensible” and “racist.”

“That’s terrible,” Tlaib said when informed of the Facebook post by the Miami Herald. She said the comments were part of a national campaign to penalize supporters of Palestinian rights.

Five days after Tlaib made national headlines for a vow to help fellow Democrats “impeach the mother------,” a reference to President Donald Trump, Hallandale Beach commissioner Anabelle Lima-Taub signed an online petition to remove Tlaib from office. She then shared it on Facebook along with racially charged comments first reported by the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

“Proudly signed,” the first-term South Florida commissioner wrote when she shared a “We the People” petition on Facebook. “A Hamas-loving anti-Semite has NO place in government! She is a danger and [I] would not put it past her to become a martyr and blow up Capitol Hill.”

Lima-Taub told the Miami Herald her support for removing Tlaib from office had little to do with the possible offense Tlaib caused Trump and his supporters. She also ignored critics who called for an immediate apology for the offensive post, and instead justified her actions by pointing to Tlaib’s stance on Israel.

“My issue with Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib is her affiliation with the BDS movement, Hamas, Hezbollah and CAIR,” the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Lima-Taub told the Miami Herald. (BDS refers to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel.) CAIR-Florida called for Lima-Taub’s immediate resignation after learning of the post.

“To say someone might be a terrorist because they are Muslim is wrong,” said Hallandale Beach Commissioner Mike Butler. He said members of all faiths are welcome in the South Florida City.

Read more here

January 14, 2019

Florida U.S. Congressman Alcee Hastings announces he has pancreatic cancer

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@davidjneal @alextdaugherty

U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings, a Broward County Democrat and the longest-serving member of Congress from Florida, announced Monday afternoon that he has pancreatic cancer and is undergoing treatment in Washington at Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Hastings, 82, said he feels optimistic about his prognosis.

“I was recently diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and in the midst of this traumatizing news, I found myself wondering not only if I would survive this disease, but also if it would impact my ability to perform my duties,” Hastings said in a statement. “Now that I have begun treatment, I feel hopeful about survival and about my ability to continue serving my constituents of Florida’s 20th Congressional district and the nation.”

The recent diagnosis hasn’t affected his attendance in Congress. Hastings has showed up for every recorded vote since the new Congress began on January 3rd.

In an interview with the Miami Herald on Friday, Hastings, known for his colorful criticism of President Donald Trump, blasted the president’s handling of the ongoing government shutdown. He also talked with Florida Republican Rep. Francis Rooney about bringing climate change experts to testify in Washington before Florida’s congressional delegation.

“Do the visual of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands losing their hospitals, do the visual of a whole town obliterated in fire and now he’s going to come and say because a handful of people are trying to come to this country that’s a national emergency?” Hastings said when asked about Trump reportedly considering disaster relief funds to build a border wall. “Come on.”

Hastings was elected to Congress in 1993, the first elected African-American congressman from Florida since reconstruction. He represents a left-leaning majority-minority district that includes Miramar, Fort Lauderdale and parts of West Palm Beach. Hastings was a federal judge from 1979 through 1989, losing his seat after being impeached for bribery and perjury by the House of Representatives and convicted by the U.S. Senate. He easily won reelection in 2018 after defeating a little-known primary challenger and a write-in candidate.

More here.

January 03, 2019

Marco Rubio wants air conditioning in Miami’s public housing

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@joeflech

As the 116th Congress opens this week, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio has filed a bill that aims to encourage the federal government to require air conditioning in public housing, which could impact South Florida as average temperatures continue to rise each year.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) does not mandate air conditioning in federally subsidized housing, a fact highlighted in August by the Miami Herald after the city of Miami gave Miami-Dade’s public housing department $15,000 to purchase and install 51 through-the-wall units for residents in Liberty Square, the country’s oldest public housing complex. Though the county has required all new and redeveloped units to have air conditioning since 2001, older units are not a part of this requirement.

Miami-Dade’s director of public housing, Michael Liu, told the Herald last year that the government doesn’t provide enough funding for the county’s overall cost to maintain its public housing stock, including the price of providing air conditioning. 

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Rubio, R-FL, is proposing the “Safe Temperature Act,” a measure that would give HUD Secretary Ben Carson the ability to use federal dollars to install air conditioning in public housing and privately-owned units funded with federal assistance. The law would allow Carson to ensure temperatures in public housing stays between 71 degrees and 81 degrees Fahrenheit.

But the bill does not mandate air conditioning, nor does it provide additional funding to pay for it. Without teeth in the law, Rubio would have to push HUD to implement the rule in places like Miami, and the senator could advocate to steer more dollars to HUD through his position on the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Because air conditioning has never been a requirement under federal law, there is no accounting for how many units don't have cooling systems. Miami-Dade has begun redevelopment or rebuilt more than 2,500 units over the past five years, increasing the number of units with air conditioning.

The Safe Temperature Act is one of two bills Rubio has filed that could impact Liberty City. The senior senator from Florida also plans to reintroduce the Liberty City Rising Act, a public safety package that would beef up security measures for public housing. Rubio first introduced the bill last year after visiting Liberty Square following a series of shootings that rocked the community, spurred a high school student protest against gun violence and attracted much media attention. The law would require dead-bolt locks on entry doors, covers on security camera boxes and covered security camera wires and smoke detectors in common areas.

In a statement this week, Rubio recalled speaking to the Liberty City community last year as he pledged to get the two laws passed.

“I will work to pass the Liberty City Rising Act and the Safe Temperature Act as a means to ensure that communities, like Liberty Square, are held to higher safety standards so that these families can raise their children in safe and sanitary living conditions.”

Experts have warned that one of the consequences of climate change is a public health crisis stemming from a lack of reprieve for people who live in increasingly hot places. The U.S. government has warned that soaring temperatures associated with climate change will exacerbate underlying health issues — and poor, urban communities are among the most at risk. Disadvantaged communities are more likely to have a harder time escaping the heat.

Rubio's bill does not mention climate change. The senator has acknowledged that climate change has been measured by scientists and is at least in part caused by human activity, but he has said he wouldn't "destroy the economy" over it and favors mitigation, water management and hardening infrastructure over changes to energy policy.

December 10, 2018

Mucarsel-Powell chief of staff pick has Capitol Hill experience

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@alextdaugherty

Congresswoman-elect Debbie Mucarsel-Powell has named former Bill Nelson and State Department advisor Laura Rodriguez as her first chief of staff. 

In Rodriguez, the first-time lawmaker is tapping someone with experience on Capitol Hill. Rodriguez worked for the State Department's legislative affairs bureau during the Obama administration where she was the point person for the House of Representatives. She also worked for the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute in addition to advising Nelson. 

"As someone who was raised in the district, Laura is very familiar with the needs of the communities I will represent," Mucarsel-Powell said in a statement. "Her experience working on Capitol Hill and her work ethic will serve our district very well."
 
"As a woman, mother, and the daughter of Colombian immigrants, Congresswoman-Elect Mucarsel-Powell is an inspiration for me personally," Ms. Rodriguez said in a statement. "Her legislative agenda to help all residents of her District access affordable healthcare, fight for common sense gun reform, addressing the unique challenges South Florida faces with Climate Change and Sea-Level Rise and protecting our environment are exactly what her District and our country need." 
 
Mucarsel-Powell will be sworn in alongside newly elected Miami Rep. Donna Shalala on January 3rd after defeating Republican Carlos Curbelo last month.

December 07, 2018

‘A freshman, but not a rookie’: Donna Shalala starts her new career in Congress

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@alextdaugherty

As Debbie Mucarsel-Powell of Miami and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York shivered while waiting for the official House of Representatives photo on a cold November morning outside the U.S. Capitol, Donna Shalala was nice and toasty.

Freshman members of Congress were required to ditch their jackets for the group photo, so Shalala, ever the Miamian, waited until the last possible second to join the group without layers in the 30-degree weather.

She’s used to Washington.

Shalala, 77, who will become the second-oldest first-year member of Congress in U.S. history, greets constituents and fellow lawmakers with the slogan, “I may be a freshman, but I’m not a rookie.” She claims to have found a 15-minute commute from her Georgetown condo to Capitol Hill, a product of her years of working within the highest levels of government and preference for rising early.

After a long career as President Bill Clinton’s Health and Human Services Secretary, leading the University of Miami and a stint as the head of the Clinton Foundation, Shalala is excited to become a low-ranking cog in a 435-person lawmaking body that recently earned a lower approval rating than cockroaches and traffic jams.

“I’m the only one walking around saying this is going to be fun. Everyone else looks tense,” Shalala said.

At least in official channels, Shalala won’t have much power. She can’t lead a committee as a first-year member, and ascending the leadership rung takes time. She hasn’t been assigned to any committees yet, but is looking to sit on the Energy and Commerce Committee or another committee that is likely to address healthcare, though major policy changes are unlikely until at least 2021.

“Certainly, in the first year I’m trying to stay focused,” Shalala said. “The people in this district have a handful of things that they’d like us to do. I listened to the people’s priorities and they made it very clear that they’re deeply concerned about healthcare and obviously about immigration, the environment and sensible gun control.”

But Shalala’s advantage over her peers is that she already knows the key players. Nancy Pelosi has already assured Shalala that she will be a part of any high-level policy discussions related to healthcare, Shalala said.

Read more here.

December 06, 2018

‘Trumpism isn’t the future’: Ousted Miami Republican reflects on election loss

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@alextdaugherty

Carlos Curbelo couldn’t win a two-front war.

National Democrats spent more money in Curbelo’s district than any other across the country on a healthcare-centric TV campaign. Donald Trump spent the final stretches of the campaign attacking immigrants, which didn’t help Curbelo in his majority-Hispanic district months after he led an unsuccessful GOP rebellion to force Congress to act on the issue.

And Curbelo’s Democratic opponent, Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, avoided strategic and ethical blunders that plagued former Rep. Joe Garcia, the Democrat Curbelo beat in 2014 and 2016.

The combination added up to a 1.8 percentage point loss.

“I think the number one factor in my race was spending,” Curbelo said, as he worked out of a Washington coffee shop during his final weeks in office. “We got outspent significantly and a lot of the casual voters that showed up, especially late, voted straight ticket Democrat and I’d say that was really what made the difference. The barrage of ads and negative attacks do work, as much as everyone says they hate them.”

Curbelo’s assessment of his race is a hat tip to national Democrats, who considered it a personal affront that he was able to win, by more than 11 percentage points, the most Democratic-leaning seat in the country held by a Republican in 2016. Instead of repeating mistakes like backing Annette Taddeo’s failed primary campaign against Garcia two years ago, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee encouraged Mucarsel-Powell to enter the race early and began a campaign focused on healthcare in a district where nearly 100,000 people are enrolled in Obamacare. The DCCC spent just under $7.2 million to defeat Curbelo, the most the group spent in any race across the country. The haul was the largest share of $20.1 million spent on TV ads in the district by campaigns and outside groups from both parties, according to Advertising Analytics. House Majority PAC, a super PAC that seeks to elect Democrats, also spent about $2.5 million on TV ads in the district.

More here.

November 28, 2018

Democrats and Republicans want to tax pollution — and give the money back to you

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@alextdaugherty

President Donald Trump said “I don’t see” the dangers of climate change that were included in a report released by his own administration. Voters in Democratic-controlled Washington state rejected a tax on carbon at the polls earlier this month. And a host of climate-minded Republicans, including Miami Rep. Carlos Curbelolost reelection and won’t be returning to Congress next year.

But a group of lawmakers on both sides see a politically palatable way to tax pollution: give the money collected from polluters back to every American in the form of a dividend.

That’s the big idea behind the latest piece of climate change legislation proposed by Florida Democrats Ted Deutch and Charlie Crist and Florida Republican Francis Rooney. The three House members were part of a five-member group that unveiled the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act on Wednesday, a sweeping bill that would tax carbon emissions and return the money raised by the tax to everyone.

“The goal was to craft a climate proposal that will be a huge leap forward in the way America responds to climate change,” Deutch said. “In South Florida, climate change is not a political issue. Our hope is with the introduction of the legislation that Congress shows that it can understand that as well.”

The carbon tax introduced Wednesday is unlikely to become law this Congress, because all bills that aren’t passed and signed by the president in the next month will expire. But the group of lawmakers see the bill’s introduction as a starting point for climate change discussions in the coming Congress, where Democrats will control the House while Republicans control the Senate and the White House.

More here.

November 03, 2018

Miami’s ‘sisterhood’ of Democrats makes a closing argument focused on healthcare

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@alextdaugherty

Zero men grabbed the microphone at a rally in front of the Community Bible Baptist Church in South Dade on Saturday.

In a year where Democrats are hoping that an uptick of women candidates can spur a blue wave across the country, Miami’s three women running for Congress — Donna Shalala, Mary Barzee Flores and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell — stood together to make their closing argument to voters and activists.

“It’s been a long road for all of us and I’ve been talking about this sisterhood that we’ve developed, Mary, Donna and I because even though we come from different background and experiences we share the same goals,” Mucarsel-Powell said. “We have to fight for the soul of our country right now.”

Democrats are hoping to send an all-female Miami-Dade delegation to Washington next year, part of 197 female candidates across the country running for the U.S. House and Senate. Their message mirrored the thousands of TV commercials being run across South Florida in the closing weeks of the campaign highlighting healthcare as the most important issue on the ballot this year, after Republicans tried and failed to repeal Obamacare during the first two years of Donald Trump’s presidency.

“It’s the year of the woman and look, you know all the issues Democrats stand for,” Shalala said. “Healthcare is a woman’s issue because it’s often the women in the family who determines who goes to the doctor and usually kick their significant other to go. And so eliminating preexisting conditions means that [Republicans] are eliminating health insurance, it’s as simple as that.”

More here.

October 19, 2018

Democrats in key Florida Congressional races raised eye-popping sums in the third quarter

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Florida Democrats picked up some major fundraising momentum in August and September, with candidates out-raising their Republican opponents in seven key Congressional races during that time.

Democrats raised more money than Republicans in the races for Florida's 6th, 15th, 16th, 18th, 25th, 26th and 27th — all potential Democratic flips, according to FEC filings. Of the Democrats running in those seven districts, five led their Republican opponents in total cash on hand going into the final stretch of the 2018 elections. (The analysis in this article includes figures from the campaigns' official committees, not outside or PAC money.)

Included in that list is Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis' old district, FL-6, where Democrat Nancy Soderberg raised almost $800,000. Soderberg's Republican opponent, Michael Waltz, raised just over $600,000. The election forecasting website Fivethirtyeight lists the district as "lean Republican," giving Soderberg about a 27 percent chance to flip it.

Democrat Kristen Carlson, who's running a strong race for the FL-15 left open by Republican Dennis Ross' retirement, also dominated her Republican opponent in third quarter fundraising. She raised over $600,000, compared to Republican Ross Spano's $219,000 haul. Fivethirtyeight says that district, which favored President Trump by 10 points in 2016, is a dead heat.

In FL-27, another seat left open by a retiring Republican, Democrats are desperately hoping to win a district that favored Hillary Clinton by almost 20 points. Donna Shalala raised over $866,000 in the third quarter, compared to Republican Maria Elvira Salazar's haul of $520,000.

Those are races for open seats. In a district like FL-16, where a Democrat has to knock off a Republican incumbent, the climb is steeper. But Democrat David Shapiro still out-raised incumbent Republican Vern Buchanan in the third quarter by over $360,000. Fivethirtyeight says Shapiro has about a one-in-seven chance to flip the seat.

It was a similar story in FL-18 and FL-25, where Democrats Lauren Baer and Mary Barzee Flores out-raised incumbent Republicans Brian Mast and Mario Diaz-Balart. Barzee has about a 25 percent chance to win her race, per Fivethirtyeight; the forecasting site gives Baer the longest odds of any Democratic candidate mentioned in this article.

Republicans have some reason for optimism as well. For one thing, Fivethirtyeight says Republicans are favored to keep five of the seven districts mentioned here. For another, fundraising is only so important at this late stage. Many television ad buys have already been made, and the closer a buy is made to election day, the more expensive it is.

Also on the fundraising front, Republican mega-donor and billionaire casino magnate Sheldon Adelson has pledged to donate tens of millions more to the Republican effort to maintain control of Congress before all is said and done.

Democrats need a net of 23 House seat pickups to regain control of the chamber in 2019. Fivethirtyeight gives the party a five-in-six chance to gain at least that many. If Democrats do, Florida could be a big reason why.

Shalala, Mucarsel-Powell will not return money from Castro-supporting lawmaker

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@martindvassolo @alextdaugherty

Barbara Lee never came to Miami.

But the mere mention of the California lawmaker’s name on the programming flier for a campaign event in Coral Gables was enough to trigger a protest, a call for South Florida Democratic candidates to divest from her campaign contributions and an attack ad from a Super PAC aligned with House Speaker Paul Ryan.

The congresswoman, who turned heads in 2016 by praising former Cuban dictator Fidel Castro after his death, was listed as an expected guest at a “Get Out the Vote” event on press releases issued by the campaigns of Democrat Donna Shalala and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell.

Despite the protest flare-up outside the event on Wednesday -- a crowd of mostly Cuban-American demonstrators yelled and waived anti-communism signs -- Shalala and Mucarsel-Powell said Thursday they will not return the $5,500 Lee donated to their campaigns ahead of the November election.

Lee, whose name was scrubbed from the event without explanation, donated $2,000 to the campaign of Shalala, who is running in Florida’s 27th Congressional District against Republican Maria Elvira Salazar.

Lee also donated $3,500 to Mucarsel-Powell, who is running in Florida’s 26th Congressional District against incumbent Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo.

In a statement to the Herald, Salazar campaign spokesman Jose Luis Castillo hammered Shalala for agreeing to appear alongside Lee and declining to return Lee’s donations.

“[Her] total disconnect and lack of empathy with this community is appalling,” he said. “Barbara Lee’s longtime admiration for Fidel Castro is deeply offensive to the Cuban community, as well as all freedom-loving people everywhere.”

After Castro’s death in 2016, Lee told the San Jose Mercury News that “we need to stop and pause and mourn his loss” and that she was “very sad for the Cuban people.”

“He led a revolution in Cuba that led social improvements for his people,” Lee said then, adding that during her eight meetings with Castro over the years, she found him to be a “smart man” and a “historian” who “wanted normal relations with the United States, but not at the expense of the accomplishments of the revolution.”

The candidates said they disagreed with Lee’s sentiments toward Castro and argued that the views of their donors are not necessarily representative of their own views, although demands that candidates return money from unsavory or controversial figures have already been an issue in the race for District 26.

More here.